The survival instinct

Editor’s note

My dad was recently diagnosed with lung and bone cancer. It took me awhile to be able to say that without tearing up. Now I say it matter-of-factly, not wanting to make anyone uncomfortable. But it grabs me sometimes at night, when I’m still enough to think, or after a phone call, when I hear his voice—weak, soft, trying to sound normal but a bit raspy from the chemo he’s been taking since he got the news in April, at age 62. I’m helpless to fight it for him, unwilling to accept the prospect of death, or even that life for him and my mom will never be the same.

Friendly, well-meaning people say, “What a shame.” But to cancer patients and their loved ones, it’s not just a shame. It’s everything. Life in all of its blunt, stubborn cycles.

It’s easy to be discouraged. To curl up and let it take you—be it in your breast, lung, bone, prostate, ovary or pancreas. But then the survivor instinct—the one Darwin promised us—kicks in, and the cancer patient fights until he no longer can or no longer needs to (for every sad story is one of hope and remission).

Like my dad, though their experiences vary, the women in these pages are fighters. Both medical and anecdotal evidence suggests they do better with love and support around. Research dollars for cures, or at least longer life spans, helps, too. Honor them by being aware—of prevention, of medical research and technology, of their struggle to stay alive and the courage needed, sometimes, to let go.